Vietnamese tourists to Japan, RoK slowed by visa regulations hinh anh 1Red maple season in RoK (Photo: Tien Phong Travel) 

Hanoi (VNA) - As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and the outbound travel market reopens, destinations in Northeast Asia like the Republic of Korea (RoK), Japan and Taiwan (China) are catching the attention of Vietnamese tourists. Visa issuance seems to be the only stumbling block for tourists to these areas.

Autumn in these markets with a cooler climate and lines of distinctive yellow-red maple trees is always peak travel season.

Many tourists began looking for tours as they plan out their travel again, however, procedures and time related to visa issuance remains a major obstacle.

Reopening in peak travel season

Director of MTV Travel Company Doan Ngoc Tung said since October 10, the RoK has removed pre-departure and on-arrival COVID-19 test requirements for Vietnamese visitors. Recently, there were a number of chartered flights from Vietnam to Yangyang county (visa-free route) with 210 passengers each. Some chartered flights to Seoul were also packed. Similarly, since Japan eased tourism restrictions on October 11, the company has booked a tour for 25 guests on November 4 and is continuing to book more.

Previously, Japan only allowed visitors on package tours, with guides and travel agents from Japan to pick them up. Now, Japan has opened up a step further, allowing individuals to travel on their own without reserving tours via a travel agent.

General Director of Wondertour travel company Le Cong Nang said his company has actively introduced autumn tours of the RoK since the country re-opened tourism in June.

At that time, the number of Vietnamese arrivals in the RoK increased rapidly and reached about 22% of those recorded in the same period of 2019 as many waited for the ‘most beautiful’ peak season, he said.

At present, the number of those interested in tours of Japan and Taiwan is growing sharply. But because of their only recent re-opening, not many groups have made the journey there.

In order to meet demand, outbound travel agents actively worked with land tour operators to schedule departures from late October and more in November.

Before full re-opening, Japan opened the door for foreign tourists October 10. However, cumbersome entry procedures deterred their arrivals which reached around 4% from the pre-pandemic level.

Visa procedures pose obstacles

Vietnamese tourists to Japan, RoK slowed by visa regulations hinh anh 2Illustrative image (Photo: VNA)

According to travel agents, the slight increase in tour prices only has little impact on booking decisions. Due to difficulties in visa issuance, the number of tourists was only about 20-30% of the same period in 2019.

The time limit for Korean visa issuance is 2 or 4 times longer than before.

Phung Xuan Khanh, Director of Tien Phong tour company, said while health regulations have been waived, the visa application may take up to a month. Before the pandemic, the embassy handled visa procedures very quickly which took only a week or two weeks at most.

Tung said following the pandemic, the RoK and Japan have approved visas very strictly, with failure rate up to 50%.

Travel companies struggle with these regulations. They deposited for each group of 25 visitors and applied for their visas, but results were unveiled close to the date of departure. If half of them have visas disapproved, tour budget will be more expensive. If a passenger fails to get a visa, the airline only supports partially, Tung said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has maintained many regulations on entry and COVID-19 quarantine. It has resumed visa issuance for those having visas to the US, Japan, and Schengen area. As it is considered only partially open, many agents have yet to book tours there.

In order to have good prices, travel agents often book seats with airlines in the form of series booking which means they have to run quota. For example, each deposit must have at least six groups. They said they had series booking with RoK and Japan, instead of Taiwan.

Khanh said due to vague policies, especially the Korean visa application, his company is unable to offer a lot of incentives. While the pandemic has eased and many complicated problems remain, it is difficult to come up with any policies to stimulate demand. During year’s end, his company will focus incentives on inbound tours./.